What makes a great sermon -- or a bad one?
This prominent speech expert supplied the answers in his guide for Catholics who preach, teach or give speeches
Dull, shapeless and uninspiring sermons aren’t a uniquely modern phenomenon, but they do seem more common than ever. Why? Lack of proper training, mainly.
Decades ago, addressing this problem, the Milwaukee Archdiocese hired Marquette University speech professor William Duffey to instruct priests and seminarians in every aspect of preaching, from composition to delivery. Such was Dr. Duffey’s success that, after 30 years of refining his lessons, he distilled them into this widely-used manual.
The “lost” art of preaching, regained
Professor Duffey delivers a complete course in how to prepare and deliver a sermon or speech, and how to improve one’s speaking ability:
The principles of fine preaching
“The needs of the faithful come above everything else. Do the people ignore the truth of a dogma? Then the preacher must instruct them. Do they question a truth? Then he must prove it. Is there a disparity between their belief and their conduct? Then he must insist upon the obligation which truth imposes upon them. The practice of morals must be stressed. Are passions in their hearts an obstacle to truth? He must oppose feeling with feeling, emotion with emotion.”
“A preacher must give the impression that he believes his hearers better than they really are. If he must deal with some major disorder, he infers that it is rare, or that those who are guilty of it are few. He often implies that no grave disorder is present among his listeners, but he must warn people of evil; consequently he signals out this or that disorder to show its terrible consequences. he inspires horror of vice, and in isolating the guilty, frightens them into believing that they stand almost alone.”
“In the pulpit a preacher should have dignity tempered by modesty and firmness. He must hold a middle ground between unnatural immobility and ridiculous agitation. His body can be held straight without being stiff. His poise can suggest dignity without any element of haughtiness.
“The face, habitually calm, grave, and serene, ought to reflect the sense of the discourse. Nothing is more ludicrous than a sermon delivered by a preacher whose lifeless and expressionless face seems to get more blank as the speaker uses stronger words and more precise assertions. The term ‘dead pan’ rather accurately describes such a performance, and the expression ought to be reserved for a certain type of comedy. The countenance should expand in joy, hope, and desire, taking on an air of happiness and satisfaction.”
“The following types of exercises may suggest to the seminarian ways of practice for visible speech.
“Stand easily erect, arms dangling loosely at the sides, eyes closed; as you inhale, allow your arms to rise gently to chest level. Keep wrists and finger relaxed. Then open your eyes, step forward, and energize your wrist and hand as you make an appropriate gesture to illustrate the sentence: This man is here. Repeat the same exercise, and at the proper time point the index finger as you say: I am pointing at you. Suggest then by gestures that you are reaching for an object; you are warding it off; you are revealing it to listeners. Practice gesturing with a number of phrases locating or describing objects.”
BONUS: Practice exercises end each chapter
APPENDIX: Techniques for improving posture, gesture, breath control, vocal tone and volume
Detailed table of contents and extensive index
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